Inspiration can come from the strangest of places. Sometimes, what can motivate people in their daily grind are words uttered in fictitious worlds, but contain real wisdom nonetheless.
“Your only limit is your soul,” the celebrated French gourmet chef Gusteau tells the unlikely gourmand on four paws, Remy, in Disney Pixar’s Ratatouille. These words ring true to anyone who finds themselves working inside the kitchen—and pastry chef Miko Kaw Hok-Uy is one of them.
Art’s crossover in the culinary realm isn’t new. But it was in Miko’s pursuit to be different where he found his greatest resolve: Marrying the laborious and meticulous techniques of traditional art with the desserts he now takes out of the oven.
“I started hand-painting pastries way back in 2013 for my first wedding cake. It was a course requirement for us to be able to graduate. While everyone was doing the usual gum paste flower-adorned and drape-covered wedding cakes, I wanted mine to be different,” he says.
“And since I am also an artist, I thought, why not incorporate painting into my cake? So I attended a cake painting workshop, learned the basics of it, did some practice, and the rest is history,” Miko adds.
While he now resides and practices his craft in the city that never sleeps, Miko, who originally hails from Iligan City, graduated from the University of the Philippines with a Fine Arts degree (as a Magna Cum Laude, no less!). In 2013, he then took up baking and pastry arts courses in Cagayan de Oro.
“Working in New York opened my eyes to the so-called real kitchen environment. It’s a labor-intensive kitchen life. There were countless times that made me want to give up, quit my job. But I did not. Looking back, it’s also these very trying experiences that I learned from the most—I was able to work on my speed and do things I never thought I could,” the 30-year-old pastry chef shares.
Miko continues to paint on pastries today and shares his passion and process:
What can you say is your style as a painter? How different is it on desserts?
It is basically the same. The concepts and techniques that you apply in painting pastries are the same as painting on canvas and on paper. Like traditional media, you have to understand the kinds of surfaces you’re working on—may it be fondant, buttercream, or meringue. It’s important to be mindful of the fact that each surface reacts differently, and their effects [on edible colors] are different, too.
The process is almost the same as painting with watercolor. You start with the first layer of light colors, let it dry, and darker colors are added, then, finally the details. You have to be very patient—there’s really no rushing when it comes to it. Especially when you are working on a surface that melts [like sugar] when liquid is applied to it.
How long does it usually take you to finish hand-painted cakes and macarons?
Hand-painted cakes take longer. On average, a two-tier cake would take me 6 hours to finish, depending on the degree of difficulty. This does not include baking the cake, covering them with fondant, and stacking them.
For French macarons, it depends. It requires very intricate designs and takes me a maximum of 2 hours each to finish. Macarons are small, therefore you have to be very meticulous with every stroke you make.
What pastry technique is next on your list?
I want to learn how to make a chocolate and sugar showpiece. It’s been a while since I last made a sculpture. This time though, it would be fully out of edible materials.
What is the most memorable dessert you’ve made?
The Pia Wurtzbach hand-painted French macaron! When Pia won the Miss Universe beauty pageant, one of my friends, Chef Mon Cardenas, asked me to collaborate with him. I was told to hand paint his French macarons which will be gifted to Pia on her homecoming press conference.
Of course, I said yes! I did it overnight, drove 2 hours to send it to Mon, and on the same day he sent the macarons to Manila through his sister. Pia received the macarons and even wanted to meet us. Unfortunately, we were both in Mindanao at that time.
What’s one thing your mentor has told you that you live by until today?
I look up to Ron Ben-Israel and Chef Nicolas Chevrieux as my mentors. They always tell me to learn how to speak up if I want to survive in this industry. They are not just mentors but motivators as well in order for me to push myself to do more than what I am capable of.
Any advice to pastry chef aspirants and anyone who would want to take on hand painting desserts?
I’d have to borrow the words from my favorite animated movie, Ratatouille: You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true—anyone can cook—but only the fearless can be great!